By DAN DEARTH
7:16 PM EST, February 25, 2011
A Hagerstown soldier accused of killing an unarmed Afghan civilian last September was an exemplary leader who showed solid judgment and looked out for his men, an eyewitness to the incident told Army officials in military proceedings.
Spc. Charles Miller testified during an Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury, that Sgt. Derrick Miller, 27, was a "squared away" soldier who acted "reasonably in pressure situations."
"I wouldn't question his judgment if he believed the use of deadly force was necessary," Charles Miller said.
Derrick Miller is to be court martialed in June for killing Atta Mohammed, an Afghan civilian Miller shot in the head with a 9-mm pistol after Mohammed's story didn't add up about visiting an American defensive position.
A Maryland National guardsman, Miller volunteered to serve with the Connecticut National Guard during a deployment to Afghanistan.
Upon his arrival in the Middle East, Miller was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, a unit at the spearhead of the fighting in Afghanistan.
Miller's deployment to Afghanistan was his third in four years. He earlier served two tours of duty in Iraq.
In addition to the eyewitness testimony of Charles Miller, all five of the other soldiers who testified, including his commanding officer, described Derrick Miller as a model soldier.
"I observed him on a daily basis," 1st Lt. Joseph R. Costello said. "In my 18 years of service, Sgt. Miller was one of the best soldiers I had. In combat, he displays excellent judgment."
Derrick Miller told officials during his testimony that his unit's area of operations was a Taliban stronghold at the time of the shooting. It was common, some of the soldiers testified, for Taliban men to pose as civilians to get close to American bases to gather intelligence.
The testimony said that Mohammed claimed to be working with Americans to fix water pumps. He then changed his story to say he needed to do electrical work.
Miller became suspicious and told Charles Miller and an interpreter to join him so he could question Mohammed near a latrine. Miller asked to borrow Charles Miller's 9-mm pistol before the questioning began.
As the interrogation went on, Miller became bothered with Mohammed's answers and pointed the gun at his head.
"I said, 'Look, if you don't tell me the truth, I'm going to kill you.' I was just using it as a scare tactic," Derrick Miller testified.
Miller said he shot the prisoner after he grabbed for the gun.
Charles Miller said he interpreted the incident differently.
He said Mohammed tried to create distance by pushing on Derrick Miller's chest.
"I never saw the man grab Sgt. Miller's weapon but he did try to create space between them by putting a hand towards his chest, however, he never created space between them," Charles Miller said. "Sgt. Miller then put the gun to the man's head and pulled the trigger. About 30 seconds went by between the time (he) tried to create space and when Sgt. Miller pulled the trigger."
Katherine Miller, Derrick Miller's wife, could not be reached for comment. The couple has two daughters, ages 4 and 2.
A soldier at Miller's Maryland National Guard unit, Co. A, 1st Battalion of the 175th Infantry Regiment in Frederick, referred all questions to the guard's communications office.
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